Learning to Explain the Word of God

Although written for Pastor’s who are preaching the Word of God each Sunday there are some lesson’s here for us everyday folks too. We as Peter says must be every ready to give a defense 1 Peter 3:15 how can we do that unless we are well prepared to do so? This is even more so the case if we are doing our duty and carrying out the Great Commission by witnessing to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.- Mike

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Learning to Explain the Word of God

Jerod Gilcher | 

Preaching is at the very heart of the Great Commission. The central God-ordained means given to the church to advance the Great Commission is His Word, preached and proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.

It is no wonder then that Paul placed such a priority upon preaching when he solemnly charged Timothy to “preach the Word, be ready, in season and out of season – reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul summarized the entirety of his apostolic ministry with these words: “we preach Christ crucified.”

Therefore, the preaching of the Word of God is among the most significant activities on earth. The proclamation of the Word is where the living Christ is mediated to His people through His Word.

Preaching is at the very heart of the gospel reaching the ends of the earth

But Biblical exposition is hard work – beautiful and satisfying work, but it is, nevertheless, work. Ask any expositor and he will tell you that preparing to preach is a sweet fusion of both pleasure and pain, of both exhaustion and exhilaration.

The question is, then, if a man aspires to preach and handle the Word with precision and power, where does he begin? What is a step-by-step process whereby he could go from exegesis (i.e., the study of the text) to exposition (i.e., the proclamation of the text)?

This is the very question I seek to address in this article. This article is for all who read it, but it is especially for men aspiring to ministry. It is written for the man who desires seminary training in the future and yet, would like some help in teaching faithfully in his current ministries.

Here are seven steps that will help you journey from exegesis to exposition, and everything in between.

#1: Preparation (Doing a background check)

This first step can begin to take place weeks before you actually preach. It’s not a long step, but it is a crucial one nevertheless. As soon as you know that you will be preaching (and assuming you know your text), you can begin to assemble your study tools.[1] Read the best materials that you can find on authorship, background, and contextual issues related to your text (Note: I find that the introductions to the best commentaries are really the most useful for this).

If preaching from Ephesians, for instance, immerse yourself in materials that will make sure you are not only acquainted with the basic history of Ephesus, but especially with the direct contextual issues related to Paul’s writing of the book. In other words, knowing the Biblical author’s intention behind why he wrote a particular book will function as the gravitational center that makes sense out of each chapter, paragraph, sentence, and phrase. If you have enough notice before you preach, schedule a few days or even a week to breathe the contextual air and background of whatever book you’re preaching from. This will help you feel more familiar with the ancient world of the text. Instead of immediately trying to make your text relevant today, immerse yourself in the dust of Ephesus. First learn what the text meant to Ephesians before you consider its implications for Americans.

#2: Exploration (Absorbing the whole book and your passage)

This step is probably concurrent with #1, but the goal here is to explore the book or letter as a whole, by reading it again and again and again.

Get the book absorbed into the bloodstream of your soul

Learn the author’s vocabulary, style, theology, cadences, as well as the flow and progression of the book.

At this point, you’re not getting lost in the details, rather, you are absorbing the book at the 30,000 ft. level. You are looking at the forest right now, not the trees. How many times should you read the book? As many times as time will allow. It is probably best to do this exploration stage with a pen in your hand or your fingers at the keyboard of a computer. Write down all of the “big picture” observations you see – including a broad outline of the book as a whole. Doing this stage well will help you to understand the text you are preaching within the larger context of the book.

After you have a good grasp on the book as a whole, you should then do the exact same kind of exploration at the micro-level. You will now be looking at the passage from which you will preach in light of your understanding of the book as a whole (let’s call this “Step #2b”). Read your particular text dozens and dozens of times, recording every nuance . Getting the text digested into your heart through immersion and absorption is what makes or breaks preaching.

#3: Delineation (Detailed outline of your text)

During step #2b at the micro-level, you will inevitably begin to see the author’s structure. This is crucial, because the Biblical author’s main points and structure is to be the main points and structure of your sermon. Your exposition of a Biblical text should mirror the emphases of the biblical author. So as you do step #2b above, begin to form a detailed outline of the text.

Two hints for help in this step: first, this detailed outline (oftentimes called an “exegetical outline”) probably won’t be the exact outline from which you preach. Your outline in your sermon will be more polished than your exegetical outline.

Second, the best way to determine the Biblical author’s emphases and flow of thought is to look at the main verbs (e.g., commands, indicatives[2]) and transition words (e.g., therefore, because, since, although, so that, etc.). These words alert you to the progress of the author’s argument. The main verbs and transitions will not only shape the structure of your exposition, but they will also define what some call a “big idea” or thesis (see below in step #5 for explanation).

#4: Meditation (The process of exegesis and study)

Now for the heavy lifting—the study and exegesis of the text. The reason I insist on calling this portion of the process “meditation” and not “study,” is because: a) meditating is how the biblical authors instruct you to read the Bible; and b) any true study of the Scriptures is, in its essence, meditation.

Meditation is nothing more than careful, methodical, and rigorous thinking about the text.

Here is a simple breakdown of what meditation entails:

  • Absorb the text (read it, recite it, think hard about it from every angle)
  • Interrogate the text (ask questions of the text as you read)
  • Interact with experts on the text (utilize commentaries and study tools to stimulate better thinking about the text)
  • Be satisfied in the text (savor the glorious truths you discover along the way)

While never forgetting the big picture of the text or getting lost in extraneous details, you meditate by working through each phrase of a text, squeezing each ounce of honey out of the comb, as it were, and savoring every drop as you do.

#5: Composition (Crafting the sermon)

Now for the writing of the sermon itself – this is what you will preach. In this step, you take the hours and days of accumulated gold you have found in the text and shape it into a format that can be effectively explained to others.

By now you already have your structure (from step #3), and now you should take your more technical exegetical outline and craft it into something more listener-friendly. Your points don’t necessarily have to rhyme or be alliterated, but they should be concise, compelling, and clear.

Remember also, that as you craft your sermon, your big idea/thesis is the gravitational center of your exposition. Everything in your sermon (i.e., introduction, main points, illustrations, conclusion, etc.) is in service of your big idea/thesis – that is, everything else in your sermon flows from or contributes to the big idea/thesis. Your big idea/thesis brings cohesion to your sermon—it determines whether you include something or leave it out—if you aren’t sure, ask yourself, does it develop the main point of the biblical author?

The big idea of your sermon is simply a summary of the Biblical author’s main agenda in the text. It is a compellingly worded, carefully crafted statement that calls a congregation to the life-change and transformation revealed in your text.

Endless debate exists on whether or not you should write a full manuscript (i.e., word-for-word) or use more condensed, abbreviated notes. Regardless of what you choose, this is how I organize my sermons. This may work for you, or you might go about it differently. For each main point of my sermon, I: 1) read the verse(s); 2) explain the verse(s); 3) illustrate the verse(s) and then, 4) apply the verse(s).

Doing it this way guarantees that you are constantly directing the congregation to look down at their Bibles and see for themselves the truth you are preaching from God’s Word.

#6: Recitation (Internalizing your sermon)

If possible, be sure to finish writing your sermon with enough time to internalize and even practice your sermon a number of times. You will want to be familiar enough with your notes to free you from the monotony of reading your sermon to the congregation. The goal is to feel comfortable enough to look your people in the eyes.

After all, preaching is shepherding, not regurgitation

If you are preaching on a Sunday, try to have your sermon finished by Friday, so that three to four times on Saturday and once early Sunday morning you can get your sermon absorbed into your own soul. Be sure also to go over your sermon out loud. This will allow you to hear any confusing or run-on sentences that need to be edited before you are in the pulpit.

#7: Supplication (How to pray before you preach)

Before you preach on Sunday morning, pray. A lot.

What should you pray? Pray for the people who are going to walk through the doors on Sunday morning with burdens and anxieties. People will show up, and whether they know it or not, they have a hunger that can only be filled by the living God through His Word.

Many will arrive on Sunday distracted, fatigued, discouraged, and not understanding that the proclamation of the Word is the very medication their aching souls need.

And so, you must pray – pray that Christ would meet with His people through His Word. Pray that Christ would manifest the sweet aroma of Himself through the text.

Pray that deeply embedded sin would be dislodged and replaced by new affections. And pray that Christ would work through His Word.

Although preaching is not the only thing the church does, it is central to the church’s mission. God is glad, through the foolishness of the messaged preached, to save those who believe (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21). So learn to preach in a way that compels the lost to treasure Christ and that makes God look glorious, not you.


[1] Lexicons, grammar tools, reference books (i.e., OT/NT background issues), commentaries, etc. Also, when it comes to commentaries, oftentimes “less is more.” Too many commentaries pose the temptation to spend more time reading those than meditating on the text. My suggestion is to take the best 1-3 commentaries your pastor suggests (maybe a mix of technical/exegetical and more lay-level expositional) and use them for their expertise and keep you honest, but spend most of your time (hours and hours!) meditating on the text. See Step 4.

[2] An “indicative” is a declarative statement of fact that in NT texts carries the main weight of an author’s argument. Consider, for instance, Titus 3:4-7 where there are many verbs, but the main verb is “He saved us.” All of the other verbs in that text are complementary to this one. In other words, like an engagement ring, most every text has a main diamond of truth and other smaller diamonds that accentuate the beauty of the main one. Be on the look out for the main “diamond.”

 

Rebuilding a Future Nehemiah Part XIII

Time to Stop Think then Do

Part 1

11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.

13 And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.

14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.

15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned.

16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.

– – – Nehemiah 2:11-16

 

Today we explore what I consider a very important life lesson, at least for me. Too often I find myself charging ahead without consulting others or God.  I will formulate a plan; dig in and find it near impossible to deviate from it.  The lesson I have learned is that from time to time we must take a step back and reevaluate the situation. This is what Nehemiah does upon his arrival in Jerusalem. I call it time to Stop, Think then Do.

 

After gaining the Favor of God and King Artaxerxes; Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to the grief of some of its residents.  His long journey over; the bible tells us he sat back in his recliner, big screen on a cold one in his hand and rested. Well not exactly look at verse 11 again. It simply says he was there three days. So what can we understand from this short statement. I searched the online archives and there is no clear cut description anywhere in recorded history of what exactly Nehemiah did. But I believe we can infer some things based upon the man’s past actions.

            I think the bible supports the theory that Nehemiah used the STD acronym upon his arrival. Yes I am sure he rested, but more importantly Nehemiah upon reaching Jerusalem STOPPED.

                        Nehemiah would have made a great military tactician. Upon reaching an objective a good leader will always Stop, Think about the objective and evaluate if the original plan still holds. Only then will a commander issue the order to proceed. We too who are rebuilding our lives must also take time to Stop, Think about our actions and only then take action (Do).  Let us look at each of these acts individually.

            Like Nehemiah, before we attack a problem we need to Stop! I cannot emphasize enough the need to slow our roll as it were. Far too often we get going pedal to the metal and forget that the world has changed and our plan is no longer valid. I am a short term, intermediate term and long term planner. When my wife and I made the decision to move to MS as domestic missionaries I had worked out a five year plan for our work.  Rest assured becoming a volunteer chaplain never entered my mind or plans. Now I could have pushed on with the original plan, but I took the time as each incident outside the original plan arose since we arrived to Stop and begin a reevaluation process.  The same needs to be done for all of our actions. As we go about rebuilding our futures we too must take time to Stop.

            Some of you are planning (hopefully on paper) what you are going to do when released. If you’re smart you are developing a working plan for both release and relapse prevention. But whether your release date is 1 week or one month or one year from now things in your plan are bound to change. Once released before fully implementing or acting upon your plan your need to Stop and look it over.

            This may seem like a contradiction to an earlier sermon entitled Cease the Day but it is not at all. I am not suggesting nor do we have in Nehemiah a quitter or someone not eager to be about God’s work. I think he had what          J.C. Ryle describes as Christian zeal, he writes on the subject:

Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which is not natural to men or women. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when they are converted to Christ, however, a desire which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called “zealous” men and women. This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything-to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die-if only they can please God and honor Christ.

            But I would be negligent in my duties if I were to leave it at that. No my friends, yes we must be zealous for God but we must couple it with restraint. Look at what Paul writes in Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Paul is warning us not to off on our own. We must constantly submit to God’s righteousness. Something we cannot do if we are charging full steam ahead.

            The next step in this life lesson is to Think. I know you’re thinking we are always thinking. Ok, but what is meant here is (if you will) a more formal thought process. It is a time of. Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation

            Again Verse 11 tells us Nehemiah was there for 3 days before he takes further action. Like I said earlier he could have spent that time dusting of the dirt of his trip, kicking back and taking a well-deserved siesta. Yet his character does not support that theory.  No I am convinced Nehemiah used this time to reflect upon his mission to that point. It is important for us as we rebuild our futures to always remember where we have been in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Equally important is to remember what has worked for us (righteously) in the past.

            Two often misquoted scriptures on this topic are:

Isaiah 43:18-19 Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

            Many times people try and use these to say we should forget the past and only focus on the future, which my friends is a receipt for failure. No Isaiah was warning the Jews of the coming Messiah and telling them to forget their former failures under the law. Paul is reminding us to not dwell on our sinful past but focus our hearts upon the prize that God is calling us to in Christ Jesus.  We must not forget the past but neither should we live in it.

 

            Next I believe Nehemiah took time to Think in the form of Meditation. We spent weeks going over how Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He prayed when he heard about the brokenness of Jerusalem. He prayed for 2-4 months waiting upon God’s guidance on what to do about the situation. I cannot envision him not being a man of prayer at this moment.

            Isiah understood this. In his prayer for the Lord’s Mercy towards Israel he reminds them Is 30:21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.’ I do not contend to be a great scholar but this one seems obvious to me. If we are going to allow God to guide our every step while rebuilding our futures; we must listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes that requires us to slow down and meditate upon His word and communicate with Him. In other words pray. Do not be too big a man to ask for help from the one person who can always deliver.

            The final step in the Thinking process is to reevaluate the situation. As many of you know in addition to being a Volunteer Chaplain I am also Project Manager for Rebuild Lakeshore. My duties are basically overseeing all the ongoing volunteer construction projects for the ministry. Again I am a planner but as Robert Burns wrote “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” (often paraphrased in English as “The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry or twisted”). I must frequently take a step back and reevaluate what has been accomplished and prioritize what still needs to be done.

            Listen this is a skill most inmates already have.  I once was a guest speaker at a luncheon and was asked what was the greatest skill set men getting out had. I quickly replied Strategic Planning. Knowing Wikipedia defines it as Strategic planning is an organization‘s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy I think they were more than a little shocked. But follow me here for a moment if you were a B&E man you cased a place looking for the best way to get in the best route of escape etc. That is strategic planning and all of you are guilty of that at least.

            Nehemiah does the same as we can clearly see in verses 12-15. Nehemiah strategically goes about scoping out the city. Look at his statements that support this:

          I went out by night: shows he was humble in his quest for God. He did not flaunt the fact he was a representative of the King.

            Verses 13-15:  And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. 14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. 15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. He moves about to various places around the city on an inspection tour in verses 13-15

            Once again looking at verse 11 we find: Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart shows me he was not overzealous; no Nehemiah understood the need to be certain of the facts before making his move.

            In verse 16 we find: And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. Was this just more humbleness on Nehemiah’s part or is he sending us a message. I believe it is the later. He is telling us to wait upon the Lord’s timing to speak or Do.

Look at the following verses from the ESV with me:

 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

            We must wait upon the Lord in all things

Ecclesiastes 8:6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.

            No matter how enthusiastic you are, no matter the burden of your heart we must wait upon God’s timing.

Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

            Only after we have taken time to Stop and Think over the situation can we have the strength to carry on God’s work seeing it through to the end. The same applies to all our decisions as we go about rebuilding our futures.

            I encourage everyone to take time today to Stop and Think about what you are doing. If it is not illegal, immoral or unethical you are probably on the right path. Confirm you walk with Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation insuring it will accomplish the most important criteria of all, does it Glorify God?

            Next time we will look at the Doing of God’s work.

In HIS Service.